The Gardens of Lake Como

The Gardens of Lake Como

 

Villa Carlotta

Built in the late 17th century for Milanese silk merchant, Marquis Giorgio Clerici, Villa Carlotta on the shores of Lake Como is a masterpiece of neoclassical architecture. The villa has passed through various hands over the centuries and each inhabitant has left their mark, resulting in a storied treasure trove that transports you back in time to an opulent past.

Giovanni Battista Sommariva, who acquired the villa in 1801, was a passionate art collector. Sommariva bought a series of masterpieces by some of the greatest artists of his era, including Antonio Canova, Bertel Thorvaldsen and Francesco Hayez, turning the villa into one of the Grand Tour's most important destinations. Hayez’ stunning 1823 canvas, The Kiss, depicting Romeo and Juliet is on show in the museum today.

 

Villa Carlotta Lake Como Italy Garden

 

The gardens are a place of rare beauty. The structure dates back to the time the villa was built. Clearly laid out as a formal or Italianate garden, a symmetrical axis runs through it from the gate to the clock on the building’s roof, while hedges, trimmed into geometric shapes, combine with fountains, statues and terraces.

The Citrus Tunnel comprising lemon, sour orange, mandarin, bitter orange, lemon, grapefruit and bergamot trees also dates back to the 17th century.

The Romantic Landscape Garden is the creation of botanist George II von Sachsen-Meiningen, husband of Princess Carlotta of Prussia who was given the villa (after whom it is named) as a wedding present in the 19th century. Sachsen-Meiningen planted magnolias, tree ferns and - most famously –more than 150 cultivars of rhododendrons and azaleas which thrive on the acidic soil.

The rhododendrons and azaleas explode into colour in spring, but Villa Carlotta is much more than a spring garden. There are ancient trees; a rock garden planted with seasonal herbaceous plants and succulents such as euphorbia, cactus, agave and aloe; roses ranging from the climbing 'Goldener 'Olymp, with its unusually large petals to the English classic 'Gertrude Jekyll', and a 3000 square meter bamboo garden containing more than 25 different species of bamboos, some of which are very rare.

Visiting Villa Carlotta and its gardens is a journey through history, art, and nature embodying the timeless beauty, cultural and horticultural richness of Lake Como. 

 

I Giardini di Villa Melzi

Rising along the shores of Lake Como near Bellagio, nestled into the hilly landscape between the two branches of the lake, the gardens of Villa Melzi are some of the most beautiful in Europe.

The complex was created as the summer residence of Francesco Melzi d’Eril, vice president of the Italian Republic founded by Napoleon in the early 1800s. Melzi d’Eril commissioned the architect and ornamentalist, Giocondo Albertolli to design the villa and its gardens. Albertolli was one of the leading exponents of Neoclassicism and his vision was of a sober, elegant villa that would allow the surrounding landscape to hold centre-stage.

 

Villa Melzi Lake Como Italy Garden

 

And it does! Designed by the architect Luigi Canonica and the botanist Luigi Villoresi as an English-style garden, it is an artistic and botanical jewel, home to many statues and monuments (don’t miss the monument to Dante and Beatrice by Comolli, which inspired Liszt’s Sonata to Dante), centuries-old trees, large hedges of camellias, and hundreds of exotic and rare plants.

Arriving at the boat dock, you are greeted by a long avenue of plane trees, pruned into umbrella shapes. This leads to the terrace in front of the villa and to gardens of azaleas and gigantic rhododendrons. These vibrant gardens enclose small spaces such as the hidden cave and the Japanese-style pond. The end of the garden is marked by the family chapel, designed by Albertolli and filled with neoclassical monuments. The Orangery is now a small museum of  Napoleonic memorabilia, evidence of Duke Francesco Melzi d’Eril’s loyalty.

Today the gardens are carefully preserved by the Gallarati Scotti family, the current owners.